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When sky-piercing trees, breathtaking landscapes, vast canyons, and monumental mountain ranges come into view, you know you’re finally here. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are where paradise is resurrected. With a combined size of 1,353 square miles, the tandem set of parks is abundant with unparalleled sights—we’re talking the world’s largest trees, the deepest canyon in North America, and the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada.
Challenging your sense of adventure and renewing your spirit, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are underrated destinations you need to add to your national parks bucket list. Miles of off-the-beaten-path hiking trails take you to the greatest viewpoints you’ll ever experience in any of California’s national parks as rugged peaks and giant trees surround you. You simply have to see Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to believe it.
A little over four hours away from San Francisco, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are tucked between Tulare and Fresno Counties. The drive to the two neighboring parks is just as panoramic as the parks themselves. If you’re driving from Northern California, you’ll have to exit Highway 99 in Fresno and jump onto Highway 180 East, which leads straight to the Big Stump Entrance. The quickest and most scenic way to get to the parks from Los Angeles is to drive along Highway 198 through Visalia and Three Rivers until you reach the Ash Mountain Entrance.
As soon as you enter Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, all of your troubles start fading away. Due to their sheer size, the enormous sequoias make you feel like you’re simply a speck of dust in the cosmos—these grounds belong to Mother Nature, and you’re merely a visitor. Compared to these colossal trees, everything else seems puny, but you’ll be amazed by the natural diversity found within the national parks.
The parks contain five distinct areas—Foothills, Mineral King, Giant Forest and Lodgepole, Grant Grove, and Cedar Grove. Begin your Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks adventure at the highest place you can go here by vehicle: Mineral King. Consisting of pine, sequoia, fir forests, and colorful granite and shale landscapes, the area is accessed by a 25-mile steep road open from late May through October. It’s important to note that RVs and trailers are not recommended, so come prepared; the remote area has no gasoline or electricity. However, neither of those are reasons to stop you from exploring the natural wonders of the subalpine glacial valley.
Thanks to the scenic trails found within Mineral King, hiking is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Sequoia National Park. (Just remember that pets are not allowed on the trails.) So, head over to the Sawtooth Trail parking area, where the Monarch Lakes Trailhead is located. The 4.2-mile one-way hike is one of the easier Mineral King day hikes and takes you through meadows, red fir forests, and the Chihuahua Bowl. Leading you to the most beautiful sceneries of the parks’ southern section, the strenuous hike is rewarding—it offers one of the most impressive views in the southern Sierra.
Squeeze in another short hike in Sequoia National Park to watch the sun go down at one of the most stunning vantage points. The Giant Forest and Lodgepole area is not only home to the world's largest living tree, but also the park's best hiking trails. The Moro Rock Trail is a rock-cut stairway that leads you to the panoramic summit of the isolated, dome-shaped granite formation. The 0.4-mile out-and-back trail is short and worthwhile—the western half of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks along with the Great Western Divide take your breath away.
After you witness the beauty of golden hour at the summit, it’s time to break out the camping recipes and get ready for a good night’s sleep in one of the best national parks in California for camping. Lodgepole Campground is the closest in the area, offering 214 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers. Reservations are required beforehand; first-come, first-served sites are unavailable. Lodgepole Campground is located within a magical pine forest along the Marble Fork of Kaweah River and is only a quarter-mile from Lodgepole Village, which has a seasonal visitor center, a market and deli, showers, and other services for campers to use. After stargazing, be sure to rest well for the second day of your thrilling adventures in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
As you greet the morning rays of the sun and breathe in the fresh air, a new day of excitement awaits you. The first thing to do is pay a visit to the General Sherman Tree—the world's largest tree measured by volume. Standing tall at 275 feet, the massive sequoia guards and protects Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The Main Trail runs half a mile down to the tree, with multiple exhibits along the path explaining the history of the giants. More monarch sequoias grow beyond the biggest one. The paved, two-mile loop Congress Trail provides wonderful views of the trees, and the one-mile loop Big Trees Trail offers interpretive exhibits regarding the sequoias amongst a lush meadow.
Visiting the largest tree is not enough for the morning; dropping by the second largest in the world is just as important, so make your way to the General Grant Tree. Located in the General Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park, the mighty sequoia is estimated to be over 1,650 years old. Named after the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, it’s the only living object to be declared a "National Shrine"—a memorial to those who died during war.
Once you’ve admired the mighty trees, the afternoon calls for horseback riding. There are two horseback riding stables in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks that offer guided rides: Grant Grove Stables and Cedar Grove Pack Station. The latter, located right outside Cedar Grove Village, offers various tours for riders of all experience levels. Ride a stallion for an hour (or for the whole day) to explore the Kings Canyon River and surrounding wilderness in a unique way. Soak in the majestic views of the glaciated valley featuring towering cliffs and tumbling waterfalls.
The Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park is also home to two distinguished rock formations—the 8,717-foot North Dome and the 8,518-foot Grand Sentinel. With hiking trails ranging from gentle walks along the floor of the canyon to more challenging climbs up steeper ascents of the canyon's rims, the area offers something for everyone. The Mist Falls Trail is one of the best hikes to do in Cedar Grove. The four-mile, one-way sandy trail takes you through forests and shrublands and past an incredible display of rapids to one of the largest waterfalls in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
After an eventful day, camping in a tent just won’t do it. Fortunately, you have several excellent places to stay near Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The most picturesque option is the John Muir Lodge—a stone-and-timber retreat located in Grant Grove Village and within minutes of Grant Grove. Relax by the stone fireplaces in the lobby and enjoy games, puzzles, and books as you admire the rough-hewn, open-beam ceilings and redwood accents. Soak up the Sierra sunset on the balcony while the fresh mountain air reinvigorates your soul as your getaway comes to its end.
Wondering which other California national parks you should add to your list? Read all about the best national parks to visit based on your astrological sign.
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